The Telegraph published an old article of mine this week, following the debate about whether the Church of England’s official liturgy should include female references to God. In fact, it’s a discussion which has been going on for decades, as this fascinating blog post by Rachel Mann explains, but it has been re-enlivened this week.
My article (here) makes the point that in all the Abrahamic faiths God is understood to transcend gender, despite the fact that historically we have always used male pronouns. 'For he is not a man, as I am.' (Job: 9.32)
A friend and theology student recently shared with me the idea that using gendered language for God is the same as using any metaphor (just like rock or lion or lamb) - of course it's not meant to be read literally. The idea of gender as a metaphor for God appealed to me, speaking of God’s ultimate otherness – we are just grasping at who she is through linguistic techniques.
But we also need to be cautious here, because metaphors can get stuck in a time warp. If referring to God as female, Christian theology uses stereotypical images (a hen gathering her chicks etc.) and so we end up associating God with just one traditional, outmoded version of femininity – as if motherhood is the one and only defining female identity. Society is starting to acknowledge that women can be many things – worker, provider, even warrior.
So if we are going to move towards a more equally balanced language about God, we must do so mindfully. To quote my dear friend, 'we must be careful not to create a new dualism by only using the feminine to affirm stereotypically feminine norms. The female must be used as normatively for God as the male. In other words, it should enable us to think about what it means for a female God to allow suffering or to judge or to condemn as well.'
Let's have a go then... "The Lord is angry with all nations; Her wrath is on all their armies. She will totally destroy them; She will give them over to the slaughter." (Isaiah 34:2)